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House of Lords' law function passes into history

world Updated: Jul 31, 2009 02:06 IST

The House of Lords will on Thursday cease to be Britain's highest court of appeal as the law lords move across the street in Westminster to a new Supreme Court, ending more than six centuries of tradition.

The creation of the Supreme Court is part of Gordon Brown government's parliamentary reform, and a law to create the Supreme Court was passed in 2005. On Thursday, the House of Lords will hear the last set of appeals as the law lords pass House of Lordsinto history.

The 12 law lords, who constituted the highest court of appeal, will function as justices of the Supreme Court, and move from the House of Lords to the Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square. The court will start functioning from 1 October.

After this afternoon, the law lords will lose their right to speak and vote in the House of Lords until their retirement as justices of the new court. The creation of Supreme Court means that the judicial functions will finally be separated from Parliament, which will become a purely legislative body.

The Supreme Court's proceedings will be televised, with justices seated at eye level with the lawyers and the visiting public in the courtrooms.

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William Gladstone proposed a Supreme Court in 1873. The Conservatives opposed him, and when Benjamin Disraeli was returned as Prime Minister, his government put through the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876, creating the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, to give the law lords their correct title.

But the House of Lords has been hearing cases for much longer than that. They acted as a law court in the the Middle Ages, although, of course, the final court of appeal back then was the king.